The Compacts: Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X, and Mitsubishi Outlander
Even though gasoline is cheap at the moment, there are consumers who still shop for a four- cylinder SUV because of economical reasons. Here are five of the most popular.
This vehicle is based on the Mazda 6 sports sedan, so it has excellent handling, sharp steering, and strong brakes. The base engine is a 2.0 liter rated at 155 horsepower with a 6-speed manual gearbox. The test vehicle has the optional 2.5 liter, putting out 184 horses, and is hooked to the 6- speed automatic, which has a sport-mode button for brisker driving. The interior has very easy-to-use climate controls and plenty of room for gear. Quality of materials is very nice. On the street, the ride is comfortable.
The test vehicle was taken off-road–there is enough ground clearance to do so, and the optional all-wheel drive gives good traction in snow or sand. Off-road the AWD drops gas mileage from 26/33 to 24/30. In real world test driving, mileage is recorded at 27 overall in the AWD and 28 in the FWD version. Drivers who like sports sedans will be pleased with the CX-5 and pleased with the price too, which runs from $22K to $34K.
The Toyota RAV does not have the sporting characteristics of the CX-5, and the previous powerful V-6 option is gone. But the RAV has a reputation for extreme reliability, which means more driving time and less repair bills when the warranty goes out. The only engine offered is a four-cylinder, rated at 176 horsepower, hooked to an automatic gearbox. At this time, there are no plans to offer a manual shifter, but as always, check with your dealer for the latest updates. Gas mileage is rated at 24/31 for front-wheel drive, but drops to 22/29 if all-wheel drive is ordered. The test vehicle had AWD and averaged 27 mpg overall.
Passing at freeway speeds was on the slow side due to the extra weight of the running gear, but otherwise no serious complaints. The ride is comfortable, the cabin looks nice, and all controls are easy to use. Like the CX-5, the price runs $22K to $34K. The test vehicle was loaded up, so it was at the $34,000 line.
Jeep Wrangler owners hate this vehicle, saying it is not a real Jeep. Arguments aside, there is plenty to like here. The base price is only $18K. This includes a 1.6 turbo 160 horsepower engine, a 6-speed manual gearbox, and front wheel drive. Optional is a larger 2.4 liter engine with 180 horses, 9-speed automatic tranny, and all-wheel drive. There is also a special off-road package with bigger tires, raised suspension, and tow hooks. The test vehicle was a stripped unit with no options to speak of. No complaints here. On the street, the fuel economy was 23 city, 33 highway, and 28 overall. There is plenty of pep under the hood.
Off-roading performance was impressive. With 8 inches of ground clearance, there wasn’t the worry of hitting medium sized rocks, and the narrow width protected the body from sharp thorn bushes. Upgraded options can only make it better. This was a very pleasant vehicle to drive and even if the Wrangler boys don’t like it, it’s worth looking into. The price is certainly right.
The Fiat 500X looks like a car on the outside, but has the same running gear underneath as the Jeep Renegade; they are both made by Chrysler-Fiat. Instead of the tiny 1.6 engine, the test vehicle had the bigger 2.4 engine and 9-speed automatic transmission. Also included was AWD for full traction. There is a lot of weight here, so this car is on the slow side. Passing on the freeway isn’t its best feature–neither was the fuel economy at 21 mpg in mixed city/freeway commuting. But at 75 mph, it did see 25 mpg, and 28 at 65 MPH.
This Fiat was very pleasant to take off-road. The AWD gave plenty of traction in sand, and there is enough ground clearance to avoid many rocks. But this is a car body, so cargo space isn’t as good as with the Jeep version. Another issue is the lack of a spare tire—in its place, a useless air pump. This is not a good idea when going off-road. Buyers should be sure to buy a spare tire.
This vehicle is the largest of the five test vehicles. It has a V-6 option for those who need more power; unfortunately, the test vehicle didn’t have this. The base engine is a four-cylinder, rated at 166 horsepower, hooked to a CVT shifter. Gas mileage is listed at 25/30 MPG. The test vehicle got 19 city, 22 mixed, and 26 highway. The CVT is more pleasant to use than other CVT’s on the market–shifting is like a regular automatic tranny. The small engine has plenty of bottom-end torque, so it pulls well at slow speeds.
One selling feature is the cabin, which has three-row seating. This is the only four-cylinder SUV to do so. This mixture of fuel economy and hauling ability is a great selling point. Also the factory has made 100 new engineering improvements under the skin that buyers can’t see. Too bad they didn’t provide sun visors that slide, blocking out the sun in the side windows. Very few Outlanders are sold in this country, so those buying one are likely to be the only one in their neighborhood driving one. Better than being like everyone else!